Sea Monsters -- A Prehistoric Adventure -- 3-D at the California Science Center

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 23, 2007 01:08pm | Post a Comment
The lovely and amazing Ngoc em accompanied me for a viewing of Sea Monsters at the California Science Center, a fact which you probably already gathered from the title and not from hours of watching Forensic Files. The film is structured like a lot of the (superior) BBC Walking With series that focuses on all those crazy monsters that didn't fit on Noah's Ark. Like the Allosaurus episode, Sea Monsters focuses on an slightly anthropomorphic female Dolichorhynchops and her search for a man amidst danger on all sides.

If you're a fan of magic lantern shows, or view masters, then you probably love 3-D. Well, really 4-D, because don't all movies have duration/time, width and height already? Why didn't William Castle think of that?

                     View Master!                                         Magic Lantern!                                 William Castle!

Anyway, Liev Schreiber's soothing tones placate you whilst giant marine reptiles swim toward you interspersed with period re-enactments of paleontologists finding fossils played by really hammy actors... and Peter Gabriel's light touch with the music should minimize any trauma from the bloodshed in all but the biggest bawl babies. Watching this with the sound off whilst tripping would probably be quite different in effect.

My main gripes are the short length (which is the norm with IMAX) and that, because we stick to the story of one Plesiosaur at the end of the Late Cretaceous, we only see maybe four or five marine reptiles. Personally, I'd rather have seen a lengthy and comprehensive expose of marine reptiles from the Mesozoic to the present. That would've given the parents more time to make out whilst sprawled out in the courtyard while the seven-year olds and myself got our learning on.

A Saltwater crocodile, which can grow up to 28 feet long can kill a shark. The largest predatory kind (the Great White) can grow up to 21 feet.

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Lars and the Real Girl -- Finally an Idiot Man-Child Film I Wasn't Crazy About

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 22, 2007 01:02pm | Post a Comment
                 Lars... whoops- David Arquette                                                               The real Lars

In Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays a shy loner who is henpecked by nagging family and friends determined to engage him. He reacts to their attempts to set him up on dates and hang out in familiar and realistic shy guy fashion. Then he buys a sex doll which he falls in love with and all at once we're transported to a world I could only recognize as the familiarly formulaic "quirky indie film." Of course it's in the Middle West (Ontario in real life), the last bastion of quirky, lovable, soft-headed townsfolk with hearts of gold and fresh-baked good intentions.

What I had hoped was going to be a semi-comic observation along the lines of Punch Drunk Love or Chuck & Buck in one contrived bit plunged straight into the territory of an SNL sketch-cum-movie or an Improv skit that goes on for way too long (i.e. over 3 seconds). OK, it's not as bad as those examples, mostly because of the casting and because you don't have Horatio Sanz cracking up at the hilarity of it all. Ryan Gosling goes a long way in making Lars a character we care about even while the script or direction provide almost no insight into what's going on in his head aside from contrived instances with a psychiatrist. We never know if he really thinks the doll is real; does he ever have moments of clarity? What made him change from a believable loner into a delusional cinematic joke? We never know much of anything that goes on inside. You won't laugh, you won't cry, even though it's calculated to make you do just that. Ultimately Lars is just an icon with funny hair, funny clothes, a funny name and a funny relationship with others a la Napoleon Dynamite. Here's hoping he doesn't similarly inspire a legion of "hipster" imitators or else I'm going to have to make a lot more calls to the Redneck Squad.

I get the feeling that director Craig Gillespie (who also made the critically-despised Mr. Woodcock) didn't keep us distant from Lars deliberately like Todd Haynes did in Safe with Julianne Moore. Lars is viewed as a curiosity from arms length through the eyes of a guy whose prescription for social heterogeneity seems to be getting the world's "weirdos" laid or, at the very least, some hugs.

There are a couple of shots of the sex doll that register on the outskirts of funny and disturbing, but for the most part Lars and the Real Girl is (like Waitress or Little Miss Sunshine) only about as quirky as a Halloween episode of Friends. Almost too edgy for an in-flight movie or your great grandmother. The story slowly flows along toward inevitable plot markers at molasses speed and then ends, gratefully, sort of abruptly.

Ngoc Nguyen in stripes

If you don't believe me, my fetching, go-to paragon of flawless taste, Ngoc Nguyen, espoused similar views. If you still need convincing if the film's mediocrity, check out these particularly rote hyperboles it inspired among some of the nation's blandest critics:

Joe Morgenstern of Wall Street Journal: "nothing short of a miracle"

Ann Hornaday for the Washington Post: "a small miracle"

Wesley Morris for the Boston Globe: "something miraculous has occurred"

There you have it. The film is pretty much an act of an all-powerful, all-knowing being.
Jesus H. Christ is reportedly "totally jealous" of Craig Gillespie's recent spate of miracles


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Chrissy Plain & Simple

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 18, 2007 10:40pm | Post a Comment

The other night I went (blessed with the company of the amazing Ngoc em and her cousin, Bao -- and my co-worker Hiland) to see the filming of the pilot for a Chris Elliott vehicle called Chrissy Plain & Simple. I like the name and concept. Just pure, unadulterated Chris Elliot, without any bells and whistles and jangles and bangles and be-bops and re-rops and flee-flops... or something to that effect. If you're a fan, you know how he just stupidly starts rambling to that effect.

On the downside-- it's sketch comedy with pre-filmed satirical segments that we had to watch a couple of times and force some laughter for the second time around. At one point I looked up at a monitor and the entire frame was filled with my chin and some teeth laughing at nothing but the instructions of the episode's director, Bobcat Goldthwait.

The show takes place on a stage cluttered with Chris Elliot cut-outs of Chris in different poses, always wearing socks regardless of the character being portrayed and, I have to say, his stupid expressions forced me to smile over and over before filming whilst Jimmy Kimmel cracked jokes-- and talked about the fact that he, I and some other guys were all coincidentally wearing maroon shirts.

The show started with an introduction and the first skit was a parody of My Super Sweet 16, which gave Chris a chance to do his annoying, entitled brat shtick, which is one of my favorites but, of the MTVs, I only have MTV Trés, which seems to be mostly videos and not reality programming so some of it might've gone over my head.

The second skit was a parody of Deadliest Catch. Do I need cable? I don't think so. This time Chris and crew fished for eels in a la s behest, to love himself resulting in him having an affair with himself and subsequently shooting himself in jealousy that I found extremely funny.

So, there's pretty much no chance that the show's getting picked up, which is a shame, but I really would rather see Chris in a sitcom than sketch comedy anyway and I'm glad I saw a vastly under-appreciated comedic genius perform live.

Although one of my favorite characters of his is the Canadian hitchhiker on Letterman who foretold bad things happening before passing on; I've never been able to find any of those clips so I leave you with other highlights.


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Hispanic Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 14, 2007 09:31am | Post a Comment
Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week. We never learned about it in my schools, which prided themselves on being among the most progressive in the country. Every year we celebrated Black History Month, which began, amazingly, in 1926 as Negro History Week back when the Ku Klux Klan enjoyed its peak membership of 4 to 5 million people (or a whopping 15% of the nation's eligible men). Anyway, we students always raised the same questions: Is it in February because it's the shortest month? Where's Asian or Latino History Month? Where's White History Month? I don't recall my teachers having the answers except that we learned plenty of white history year-round and Black History Month was a time to recognize the contributions of a people to American culture who'd been systematically ignored.

So, this year I found out about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which began in 1978 and which I had NEVER heard mentioned. Some Asians I knew had, including, of course, noted justice-minded free-thinker Ngoc-Thu Thi Nguyen. She said it was marked by more documentaries about Japanese Internment Camps being shown on PBS. At the same time, I found out about Hispanic Heritage Month, which I mentioned started in 1968, and which I'd also never heard about. 

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I thought (educated mostly by Los Angeles' films and TV and music videos) that it was going to be 25% plastic people living in palatial homes, 25% blonde, leather-skinned weddos rollerblading down the Venice Boardwalk, 25% Crips and 25% Bloods. I don't know any of those people except O.G. Crip Greg "Batman" Davis, who's one of the patron saints of Amoeba's Black Cinema section. But that's pretty much what we were fed. And I thought, given its famous palm trees, it would be steamy and sub-tropical like my former home in Florida.

I got to Chino (which I wrongly figured was pretty close to the ocean) and drove to an El Pollo Loco in Chino Hills because I'd seen an ad in Spanish for it with a chihuahua that said a lot more than "Yo quiero Taco Bell," which piqued my interest. My friends in Chino and Pomona, whom I'd met in Iowa, showed me around. I flipped the radio stations and heard bandas, Vietnamese talk, ranchera (on the a.m.), Korean music, norteñas and freestyle. The people I saw everywhere didn't look like the people I'd been led to believe I'd see. And it was dry and cold at night. I still get annoyed when (invariably white) people characterize Los Angeles as a soulless botox world of corporate chains and cultureless (and invariably white) people. It's almost as though if you're not black or white, then you're invisible. The truth is that Los Angeles is probably the most ethnically (and culturally) diverse spot on the planet and possibly the universe. 46.5% of the population is Hispanic and/or Latino. Los Angeles was founded by the Spanish and then became part of Mexico with its independence. Following the rebellion of illegal American immigrants in Mexican Texas and its subsequent secession, they tried the same thing in Mexican California. Maybe that's why some people are afraid of immigrants from the south. Maybe we/they have this cultural memory about when white people moved illegally to the area, refused to assimilate or even learn the language and then revolted with guns because the creator of the Universe always had this plan for white people to settle on the Pacific which he communicated to Andrew Jackson in a vision, I suppose.

For those that will invariably question certain characters being included or not included:

It's an American holiday so all the figures are citizens of the US; hence, no Santo, Pedro Infante, Chalino, Tin Tan, &c. The display's in our movie department, hence, not every comedian, athlete or Hispanic celebrity you know of is there. Sorry, no Christina Aguilera. Finally, yes, they're all either Hispanic or Latino (in some cases both), despite their stage names or your (mis)conceptions about what makes someone Hispanic, which explains the inclusion of:

Sammy Davis Jr = Puerto Riceño
Cameron Diaz = Cubana
Raquel Welch (née Jo Tejada) = Boliviana
Madeleine Stowe = Costa Ricaña
Rita Hayworth (née Marguerita Cansino) = Española
And Jackie Lopez, famous Amoebite. Perhaps she hasn't been in any films, but there she is below Maria from Sesame Street and between Selma Hayek and Sofia Vergara, who is a fine actress -- I don't care what you say... 


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New to DVD - The Lookout - spoiler warning - in which the glaringly obvious glares... obviously

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 21, 2007 04:15pm | Post a Comment
The Lookout was written and directed by Scott Frank. It took ten years to get made and is a labor of love... and a big piece of crap. Two thumbs down from Ngoc and me.

It's set in Kansas City. Why? According to Frank, "I spent time there, but mostly what I loved was that there was an urban environment right next to a rural environment and they're very close together. He can live downtown but work two hours away in the middle of nowhere and I really liked that." That is true, if you drive two hours outside Kansas City you're in the sticks, or another city. So, the setting is very important obviously. Kansas City is like a character in the film, you might say. Of course, his observation applies to nearly every city in the country between the east and west coasts. Obviously Frank had a window seat on a cross country flight or maybe a just layover at Kansas City International. And the in-flight entertainment, I'm guessing, was Memento.
"I really didn't know why, but I just loved where it was. I loved that the mob was no longer there, that it was sort of a dying mob city and more of a "sons and sons of" place now. I just thought it was kind of interesting. I ended up doing a lot of research." Apparently meaning he watched lots of old movies with Kansas City in the title because Kansas City has a very high crime rate and most gangs there don't look much like the Lookout's.


Note to Frank: If you'd Googled "Kansas City" and "mafia," you'd have learned this:

Despite being in prison in 1995, Anthony “Tony Ripes” Civella was seen as the new crime boss. In 1992 he had been convicted of a scheme to divert pharmaceutical drugs from traditional sellers on to the gray market. He was convicted and sentenced to 4 years. Since 1996 he has been free and very active. The remaining Las Vegas interests fall under power of Kansas City LCN Family member Peter Ribaste. His underboss is William Cammisano, Jr. In 1997 all three were placed in Las Vegas’s Black Book and are barred from casinos in that area. Today the Kansas City LCN [la Cosa Nostra] Family is reported to have 20-30 “made” members and is a very tight knit group controlling many street-level rackets.

Winnipeg (left) and Kansas City (right)

The movie is filmed in Winnipeg because somehow there are not one but at least two cities on the continent surrounded by rural areas. And it looks just like Kansas City except it's winter all the time and everyone's white or Native American and it's a lot smaller.  Scott Frank said, "I watched Capote [filmed in Manitoba] and I thought, 'Man, that looks like Kansas,' and I followed in their footsteps." Sounds like more research to me. Or maybe watching Capote is what he meant by "spending time in Kansas City."

Now, I'm not a stickler for authenticity, honestly. I didn't protest Memoirs of a Geisha for casting Chinese women to play Japanese characters who spoke in English. Nor do I mind terribly when Ancient Romans or Greeks are played by Australians or Scots with phony English accents and staunchly heterosexual tastes. My motto, in fact, is "Keep it fake." I just think if you're going to stand all self-important-like, smugly feeling superior because of how real your movie is on account of your painstaking research, then you're asking for it.

Chris is a popular high school hockey player. The movie begins with him driving through the country with his buddies. He turns off the headlights and the car is surrounded by really hokey CGI fireflies, which Chris explains to his friends, which made me laugh out loud. Having Missourians explain to other Missourians what fireflies are is like having a Salvadoran explain pupusas to his homies or Texans explaining armadillos to each other. On the other hand, having seen real fireflies, I couldn't tell what they were supposed to be myself. I thought they were will o' wisps or something.

will-o-the-wisp... or firefly?

A brain injury prevents him from figuring out or remembering key things, a gimmick which is used to explain why he can't figure out all the obvious "twists" that we're spoon-fed and see coming for miles because I guess w
e're supposed to feel like we have a brain injury ourselves. Chris doesn't live at home. His family is rich and have all these guns that they talk about and play with but they're just for show. They're loaded too, so don't shoot them, OK?

But Chris doesn't live at home because he's on bad terms with his family. His family with all the guns. Instead, he lives with his blind friend Lewis. Chris gets a job at a bank in a one-cop-town.  You'll never guess where this is going because, I know from the DVD, that this is a thriller.

Chris falls in with this guy who's speaking with a phony accent. That's not what's supposed to make you suspicious though. He's just an English actor unsure of how to sound Missourian. He does a better job than his co-stars though. This guy is in a gang. One of the guys in the gang just sits around expressionless wearing sunglasses... even indoors and at night. He also wears all black so you just know he's a badass and probably, when he finally does do something besides sitting around scowling in silence, it's going to be badass and in slow motion.

Here's the thing that really made me think lots and lots. The blind guy is the only character in the film who can figure out why these gangstas want to be friends with Chris even t
hough he works so far away in a small town bank with only one cop around and his on such bad terms with his gun-crazy family. OK, in case you missed that. [Zoolander voice] The blind guy is the only one who sees. Deep, huh? I'll give you time to scoop up the pieces of your just-exploded mind now...

You still don't see where this is going, do you? That's because this movie is smarter than you.

Anyway, that one cop befriends Chris and keeps talking about how his wife is expecting and how he sure is looking forward to that and he hopes nothing bad happens to him because his wife is expecting a baby and if anything happens that would be really sad. Like if he got hurt on the job but how could that happen because it's a small town. But, on the other hand, it's real near Kansas City, which is full of unscrupulous city types. But what business would unscrupulous city types have at a bank in the country?

these are gang members

The cop has to remind Chris, and the viewer, this fact because Chris's brain doesn't work. Then, when Chris's unscrupulous city friends concoct a plan involving the bank (that I won't give away) the cop shows up and starts in again. "It's my last day on the job, Chris. I sure hope nothing happens to me on my last day. The reason why it's my last day is on account of my wife is having that baby tomorrow and I'm going to spend time with my new baby just as long as nothing happens to me on my last day."

And then the guy who's silent all the time walks in slow motion and something bad happens to the cop. Then there's a really tedious and prolonged ending involving double crosses and pleas for mercy and guns and a bunch of other crap that's pretty much mandatory.


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